According to the definition in the dictionary, Lu(marinate) means salt, especially referring to well salt. Marinated food, or food stewed with soy sauce and spices, means that the chef puts roughly processed materials into a master stock and heats them gently till they become tasty. However, even the simple character of Lu has many possible ways of interpretation. For example, marinated eggs are made with the most radical marinating method, which is essentially the same as the interpretation in the dictionary. Put eggs in a pot of brine water and boil the eggs till they become tasty; marinated preserved tofu and marinated chicken wings and duck legs must be covered with hot oil before being put into brine water, which makes them tasty, crispy, and palatable. Pork and beef are best when being put into cold water and being heated to medium before being marinated. Most ingredients need to be partially or fully cooked before being marinated, especially meat—the truth is that raw meat has relatively less water; once heated, the salt in the brine water will penetrate into the meat and make it salty. In addition, the blood in the raw meat will pollute the brine water. A pot of quality brine water should not have the following defects, such as making people thirsty, numb in mouth, hot and dry in mouth, bloating in intestines and stomach etc., all of which are the result of too much salt and chili.
Although it is one of the simplest ways of cooking, the key to making marinated food is to mix a variety of flavors of brine water. Just like the old saying goes “opera actors rely on his or her voice; good chefs rely on quality soup”, the brine water is the key to making successful marinated food. The famous Chaozhou brine water is the ancestor of the marinated food of the south of China. Provinces in the south of the Yangtze River basically followed the same methods and make similar brine water. The ingredients needed to make the brine water generally include sugar, salt, soy sauce, fennel, cardamom, amomum, dried citrus peel, cinnamon, ginger, licorice and even pepper. However, for quality brine water, chefs must be very particular about how to mix the ingredients and different marinated food may need different compositions. Cheap marinated food bought on the street are mostly salty and with weak flavor, because the cook failed to pay attention to the proportion of the different ingredients.
People from my hometown are fond of delicious food and want to marinate whatever they think will be tasty. My Brother-in-law is full of sense of humor, sometimes he really has the Midas touch when playing mahjong, and he will laugh at himself by saying that his hands have also been marinated. The most famous marinated food in recent years has been Wuhan’s marinated duck neck, which is synonymous with Wuhan specialty and is regarded as the perfect dish to go with wine by people around the whole country. In Wuhan, different foods, such as lotus roots, eggs, sausages, duck’s feet and cow bones, are always put into one pot of brine water. Different flavors integrate with each other and create a unique and savory flavor. While some restaurants keep a pot of brine water especially for duck neck.Many people disagree with this method because they don’t know the reason behind the recipe: lotus roots, eggs, sausages, and duck’s feet will not lose their flavor whether it is hot or cool; in fact, it is better to eat the marinated duck neck when it is cool—put the duck neck into the well mixed boiling brine water and simmer it till the whole neck becomes tasty and colored. Turn off the heat three hours later and cover the food with a lid. Wait till it is cool and the flavor of the brine water has infiltrated into each fiber of the duck neck. The marinated duck neck cooked this way is really tasty and delicious.
Can marinated food only be created with a water based broth? Of course not, oil can also be used to cook marinated food. We call it oil brine.
Different from traditional food ingredients and cooking methods, Wuhan citizens even began to make marinated seafood. One case in example is the marinated shrimps in oil. Put all kinds of spices into the boiling oil to make an oil brine, heat the brine oil to 120 degrees and then turn the heat down, put the two-inche large shrimp into the brine oil, turn off the heat, cover it with a lid and wait till it become cool and tasty, then take the shrimp and remove the oil sludge-the shrimp meat and shell will separate easily. The meat is flexible and spicy.